Ramakrishna Movement

(The excerpts below are from the speech delivered by Swami Gahananandaji, the then General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, on 27 December 1990 at the Conference of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Peravi, Tamil Nadu, India, organized by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras. Swami Gahananandaji later became the 14th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission and passed away in November 2007)

Sri Ramakrishna is the central source of all power in the Ramakrishna Movement. He came with a worldwide mission, and all the activities now are going on in his name are to be regarded as manifestations of his divine mission. He is the focal point upon which the lives of the men and women and the functions of the various institutions of the Ramakrishna Movement converge. The Upanishad says Yatra viśvam bhavati eka nidam: “Where the whole world finds its common nest, i.e. common home.” This is indeed true of Sri Ramakrishna, although it may take more time for the world to realize this fact. Devotees of Sri Ramakrishna constitute a single family. We may have been born in different places, we may speak different languages, we may have different cultural backgrounds; nevertheless, we all belong to the same family of Sri Ramakrishna. The foundation of this worldwide family was laid by Sri Ramakrishna himself during his lifetime.

What does the word “Movement” mean in this context? The rapid spread of the influence of a set of moral and spiritual ideas among a growing number of people is what “Movement” means. A Movement is much vaster than an institution and is more dynamic than a sect. The Ramakrishna Movement satisfies both these conditions. It is one of the most progressive movements of the present century. Some of the highest and noblest ideas and ideals of the modern world have been given to this Movement by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

The Ramakrishna Movement consists of four streams. The Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission together form the mainstream. These twin institutions were started by Swami Vivekananda at the behest of Sri Ramakrishna and with the help of the other great disciples of the Master, and the original inspiration and power are maintained through an unbroken succession of spiritual teachers and centralized administration.

The lay devotees of Sri Ramakrishna form the first stream of the Ramakrishna Movement. The lay devotees have as important a part to play in the Ramakrishna Movement as the monks. It may be remembered here that Sri Ramakrishna did not encourage his householder disciples to renounce the world. On the other hand, one of his teachings was that householders also could realize God by fulfilling certain conditions. And several of the Master’s lay disciples proved through their exemplary lives the truth of his teachings. These examples should inspire our householder devotees to tread the spiritual path with faith, hope, and dignity.

The lay devotees of Sri Ramakrishna include quite a number of young men who do not want to marry but who for various reasons cannot become monks. In every Ashrama, you will find these young men doing a lot of voluntary service. They are usually referred to simply as “Volunteers.” They belong to the second stream.

Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission may be said to constitute the third stream of the Ramakrishna Movement.

The “Private Ashramas” functioning independently, without administrative affiliation to the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, constitute the fourth stream of the Ramakrishna Movement. Of course, there is nothing “private” about them. They are indeed public institutions based on the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda ideals of spirituality and service.

The Ramakrishna Movement has as its common characteristics certain traditions and values. Some of these are enumerated below:

  • No miracle-mongering. Sri Ramakrishna never encouraged interest in miraculous powers as it is a great obstacle to spiritual progress. The followers of the Master are expected to be free from religious hypocrisy and spiritual pretensions.
  • Modern outlook. In our way of life, social manners, personal habits, and attitudes, we should be modern and progressive. Relics of past social customs like caste distinctions have no place in our individual or collective life.
  • Non-sectarian approach. Swamiji has stated that the one thing Sri Ramakrishna never liked was setting limits to God. God has infinite powers and can assume various forms. A true follower of Sri Ramakrishna looks upon all religions as valid means of realizing the ultimate Truth and regards the various cultic practices and spiritual techniques as suited to different temperaments. Those who belong to the Ramakrishna Movement should never associate themselves with fanatical religious groups or leaders.
  • Love. Sri Ramakrishna was the embodiment of love. It manifested itself fully through Holy Mother. And Swami Vivekananda sacrificed his life for the welfare of humanity. The love of these great personages is a precious heritage of the Ramakrishna Movement. Love must manifest outwardly as hospitality. Hospitality has been one of the time-honored virtues of Indian culture. And in the Ramakrishna Movement, hospitality has always been associated with our Ashramas.

The Ramakrishna Movement stresses on three more principles in our practical life:

  • First of all comes character. Unselfishness, truthfulness, and purity in personal life are essential virtues for a worker of the Ramakrishna Movement. In order to do the work of the Lord, we need great inner strength. True inner strength can come only through inner purity.
  • The second principle is spirituality. Though morality is essential, mere morality cannot bring lasting peace or fulfillment. The Ramakrishna Movement is pre-eminently a spiritual movement.
  • Finally, the principle of social service. Although there are now a number of other organizations actively engaged in social services, the need for social service has not been reduced.

Swami Vivekananda wrote in one of his letters:

A hundred thousand men and women, fired with the zeal of holiness, fortified with the eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion’s courage by their sympathy for the poor and the fallen and the downtrodden, will go over the length and breadth of the land, preaching the Gospel of salvation, the Gospel of help, the Gospel of social raising-up — the Gospel of equality.

It is the duty of every one of the members of the Ramakrishna Movement to strive his utmost in bringing to fruition this great wish and hope of Swamiji.